Archipreneur Insights is an interview series with experts and entrepreneurs in the field of architecture, building and development, highlighting the creative and unusual operations of their businesses and projects. Considering we’re very deep within the age of technology, we also look at how these community leaders have used alternative methods to achieve their career and business goals. Let’s learn, share and (literally) build together.
This week’s interview is with Sébastien Lucas, Co-Founder and CEO of Bricks.
Sébastien has been working an architect for 7 years before he started as an entrepreneur and self-taught web developer. His goal was always to make architecture a collaborative practice. He first developed Openbricks, a platform to share and find open source architectural projects and designs.
Then, inspired by GitHub, he developed Bricks. Bricks is an app for architects that focusses on providing collaborative solutions for architectural design. The public beta of Bricks will be launched this month.
Continue to read to learn more about SaaS, business models for open source and of course about Bricks and how it could help your practice.
Enjoy the interview!
What made you decide to found Bricks? Was there a particular moment that sealed the decision for you?
Since the beginning of my entrepreneur journey back in 2006, when I was still working as an architect for agence TER, a well-known French landscape architecture studio, my motivation is to improve the way architects collaborate.
I developed Archiref in 2010, a platform to share images of architecture, and then Openbricks in 2014 to make it easier to find open source elements for architecture.
Those two projects seek to encourage architects to share their library of inspiration and projects. In order to save time, build a community, and communicate their work in a way that is useful for everyone. With Bricks, I was also at the design side of the development.
Software developers have GitHub, where most open source software are built and shared. Github is both a working tool and a huge library. Inspired by GitHub, I was motivated to develop an app for architects that can be useful daily and help in making the design process collaborative, in essence, the GitHub for architects.
I met my two associates about a year ago. One of them, François Muzard is a BIM manager. He introduced me to the BIM world and the fact that the BIM ecosystem needs apps to help efficient communication among project stakeholders, task sharing, and even discussions…
All Bricks associates have experienced agile methods in the fields of web development and BIM collaboration. So the idea arose to quickly build an app that would integrate not only all the benefits of Agile Methods, but also adapt to AEC and closely integrate to the growing BIM ecosystem.
You have just launched Bricks app. Could you give us some examples of how the tool is used and how it helps architectural practices?
Architects lose a lot of time for external and internal communication. After a meeting, everyone seems to be all clear on what needs to be done. But how to track progress and answer questions before the next meeting? How to keep the project momentum and maintain flawless communication day after day, and keep everyone involved motivated and informed?
Communication is usually a mix of emails, phone calls, and maybe some paperwork… but it takes time and never provides a clear state of the work to be done.
With Bricks, we propose a shared platform to communicate and exchange ideas about tasks before and after the meeting.
You can then:
- plan tasks for the next meeting
- assign them to your team or external collaborators
- discuss the tasks in greater detail
- follow their progress and hierarchize them with a kanban board
We will release a new meeting module soon. It will allow you to invite meeting attendees assigned to specific tasks. It also generates a report to send out automatically to all the attendees.
Compared with other architecture project management tools, Bricks is based on Agile approach. More than just tracking tasks, we also aim to give everyone a clear idea of what how far along they are on the project.
Of course, you can manage privacy too, thanks to our group feature. It allows creating separate project groups where you can share specific topics to just your engineers, the client, or to everyone on the project.
In which development phase is your app?
The public beta of Bricks will be launched this month. This version is the result of nearly one year of development and iteration on the product. We have decided on a clear roadmap, giving priority to the ease of use and simplicity along with specific attention to the quality of the user interface.
Though BIM and 3D model integration are important, we have decided to orient our first product on task management, as it is at the core of agile methods. Also often the simple, such as sharing comments and images, is more efficient than the complicated, like discussing a complex 3D model. Indeed the 3D model environment could be overwhelming for many people and not accessible under bad internet connection contexts.
We will make a demo of the app at Web summit, the biggest startup event in Europe, held in Lisbon this November. We will animate a few specific user workshops in our network of innovative architectural practices. Our objective is to gather as many feedbacks as possible to improve the app for its next iteration.
The next feature we will develop is a new module that handles meetings efficiently and integrates with task management seamlessly. We expect to launch it before the end of the year.
After which, we will launch the final v1 version and payment plans at the beginning of 2018.
How did you finance it?
Since the end of 2016 and until now, we have financed the Bricks app project out of our own pockets. We are looking for public and private funding to move with the project even faster. As in the startup world, completion speed is a key factor to success!
Further I wanted to ask you about a project you launched earlier, Openbricks. Could you tell us a little about it?
Openbricks is a platform to share and find open source architectural projects and designs. These past few years have seen open source architecture gaining momentum, with a community like the Wikihouse and the Pritzker prize Alejandro Aravena who shared four of his social housing designs under the Creative Commons license.
I have the chance to be both an architect and a web developer, so I know very clearly how open source contributes in development – it simply revolutionizes everything!
While big tech names like Google and Facebook also contribute to open source framework, a software collaboratively developed by a community of people can eventually get bigger and more powerful than the software developed by powerful companies. It is a way to democratize the knowledge.
But now to get back to architecture, the open source movement face several roadblocks that prevent its viral development :
- A clarification of licenses
- A clarification of responsibility for the design
- A simple way to find and participate in open source design
- A business model to share the benefits to contributors
With Openbricks, we wanted to solve the problem of the fragmentation of open source architecture projects to create a standard that facilitates discovery like GitHub did in its time.
We, of course, want to advance in a better model and improve the tool. But for the moment, the development of Bricks is our current priority.
Open Source means that knowledge is shared at no costs. What is the business model for Openbricks?
Openbricks is completely free!
Open source platforms can have several business models. Let’s take two examples. First is the Noun project, a platform of quality design icons shared by the designer community. They offer free license of the icons they share, all within the Creative Commons framework. Most people don’t pay, but the professionals do and contribute for the others.
Secondly GitHub, the hub for open source development projects. It is free for open source projects and does have paying plans for companies that want to use the same tools (code versioning, project management, etc) to manage their private projects.
In our case, Openbricks is a library of architectural elements that could be, at some point, integrated with Bricks app. Openbricks will remain free and what people will pay for is to use the Bricks app as a monthly subscription. This, in turn, will go to the services, formation, integration, and customisation that could be needed for architects to set up the app internally.
Do you have any advice for Archipreneurs who want to start and build their own business?
Don’t be afraid to study your project idea. We are all constantly overwhelmed by announcements of new apps, new startups. You may feel discouraged to launch your own project in such a competitive and dynamic world.
But do it :
- start small
- focus on one specific problem to solve, one that you experienced personally
- choose the right people to build and complete your team
- don’t be afraid to talk about your idea to anyone you meet
- show the product early for feedbacks and do not hesitate to change your initial idea
Experience has proven that ideas that seemed very similar at first can create a whole new experience and with continuous improvement, differentiate itself from the rest and find its target market.
Think about Instagram, who would have imagined that an image sharing app with a few filters could end up being so popular!
About Sébastien Lucas
Sébastien Lucas is co-founder and CEO of Bricks, a SaaS application focused on providing collaborative solutions for architectural design. Sébastien is an architect by profession and for 7 years worked for award-winning French architecture and landscape architecture companies.
He then worked 5 years as a freelance web developer to create web applications for other startups, media and web agencies. In 2013, he organized three Future Architecture Night events, a conference cycle inspired by TED’s or Pecha Kucha and offered the opportunity for more than 30 startups and architects to talked about their innovations related to architecture.
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